Is the Philippines on the verge of repeating history?

Written by: Md. Sahariar Faruque Bhuiyan

How did it all start?

On 30th December 1965, Ferdinand Emmanuel Edralin Marcos Sr (also known as Ferdinand Marcos Sr) first came into power. Since then, the course of Filipino history has changed forever. Being a dictator and a kleptocrat, Ferdinand Marcos’ presidency was stained with corruption, poverty, and brutality as a dictator and a kleptocrat.

He declared martial law in the country in 1972, a year before the end of his second presidential tenure, citing a possible communist takeover.  This allowed him to remain in office and effectively rule as a dictator. However, in 1983, the assassination of Benigno Aquino, the opposition leader, enraged the mass and sparked a large-scale pro-democracy movement.

The outflow of people’s emotion suddenly turned into a movement putting Corazon Aquino, the widow of Benigno Aquino, at the front. The people started to take over the streets, demanding a change. Consequently, a snap election with rampant electoral fraud happened in 1986, allowing Marcos to secure another victory. This ignited a public outcry, and millions of people came down the streets in protests and demonstrations— known as the People Power Revolution.

The uprising was largely peaceful, and it resulted in Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino succeeding as the President. Meanwhile, the Marcos family fled to Hawaii— taking about 5 to 10 billion dollars with them. They took crates of valuables, jewellery, and lavish costumes.

After three years in exile, Ferdinand Marcos Sr passed away. Many believed it would be the end of his political dynasty. However, one of his four children— Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr— has returned to the country and joined its political battleground once again. 

What is happening now? 

Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr has won the recently held presidential elections and is joining the office with his father’s legacy. Throughout the whole campaign, he tried to portray the dictator Marcos Sr’s rule as the golden era for the Philippines. Bongbong attempted to rebrand his father’s oppressive rule by distorting and cherry-picking information to serve his propaganda and bring his family back in power. He is still facing charges of tax evasion.

The Marcos regime has always been intertwined with the country’s corruption during their past rule. A picture of their lavish lifestyle could be found in the room where Imelda Marcos, the wife of Marcos Sr., had three thousand pairs of expensive shoes. Only $4B out of the $10B of money embezzled by the Marcos family could be repatriated. They bought properties and invested in the western countries with the money stolen from the Filipinos.

Dynastic politics is not only present in the Philippines but also strongly reflects the other South Asian political landscapes. Similar to Bangladesh, it is highly influential in India and Pakistan, with the presence of the Nehru-Gandhi family in India and the Bhuttos and Sharifs in Pakistan. The major problem with dynastic politics is that it often prevents newer political faces from emerging, who might be more capable of making better changes, as the spotlight is fixated on the members of the prominent political dynasties. 

Marcos Jr’s presidency is undoubtedly a win for the political dynasties. The Marcos and Duterte are the most influential political families in the Philippines. An alliance will pave the way for a golden time in the future. Sara Duterte, the daughter of the incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, has already formed an alliance with Marcos Jr. Rodrigo Duterte is infamous for killing thousands of people in the ‘War Against Drug’ campaign.

While we have all wondered how someone like Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr won the election, a look at his campaign could reveal a few things. During the Martial rule under Marcos Sr., some infrastructural developments took place. But they were selectively highlighted without any context to present a completely different picture of that time. In reality, the development phase was a haven for corrupt people to extract Filipino money into their own pockets.

Marcos Sr’s rule is the perfect example of dynastical politics and kleptocracy. The corrupt leaders used political power to seize the people’s wealth and lands they governed, typically by embezzling government funds at the expense of the wider population. The cronies of Marcos benefitted the most from the regime. 

The main problem is not that the Marcos are coming back to power or that the political dynasties are getting more support. The issue is that there might be compromises for democracy in the near future. Marcos Jr does not seem to favour democracy, and he lacks a clear policy for his term. The erosion of democracy has already started due to the propaganda and false information spread by him during the campaign. It is hard to believe that a person who thinks martial rule was the golden age of a nation, can respect the democratic institutions of his country. The world will keep a close eye on Marcos Jr’s presidency. 

There are possibilities that Ferdinand Marcos Sr might even be portrayed as a hero of the nation in the future. Winston Churchill once famously said that “History is written by victors,”— a phrase which we hope does not turn out to be true for the Philippines.


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